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Strip philosophy of right-on humour, Henry realised relatively early on that integrity, truth and the ability to write your own material are a comedian’s most important assets. And it’s heartening to note that in the 15 years he’s been performing, change has started - albeit gradually to set in. ‘I think that people find it easier to accept blacks on television because of the work that’s been done by people like Desmonds and my stuff,’ he says. ‘I think the more black programme makers there are, the more blacks you’ll see in front of the camera. It’s great to see an Asian soap on television. The least self-conscious it can be “Well here we are, it’s a black sitcom and it’s set in the record company”, you know the more it can be about normal people in normal situations having normal relationships the better it will be. The Cosby Show is about a guy who is an obstetrician, his wife is a lawyer and they just happen to be black. The more things we can do that are like that the better.’

Ironically, these days Henry finds that his worst enemy can be a curious inverse racism. So many white liberals can’t cope with the idea that it might be possible to laugh at a black character. Henry rarely feels he has to curtail the excesses of his own material, but audiences are unpredictable. ‘I think the only time that the self-censorship gets out of control is when you don’t know who you are or what you want to do, so you try to emulate people who you’ve seen,’ he says. ‘I’ve been accused of being all kinds of things. When I did the Edinburgh Festival one time, people said, “We really enjoyed it, but we don’t know if he’s being racist or not”. That was only because I was doing characters that were definitely black, and a predominantly white audience reacts in a way that they think, “Oh we don’t really know about this, so should we laugh or should we be offended?” Well the thing is, if you do a Scottish character or ifsomebody from Manchester does a Manchester character, it’s just somebody from your experience, it’s not something to be worried about. The only time you should be worried is when it’s so offensive or racist that you can’t live with it. I think as long as it’s something that’s truthful then you’re alright.’

Taking a holiday immediately before his Edinburgh appearance and even that coincides with his bout of US film publicity Lenny Henry shows no sign ofletting up. ‘I haven’t been on holiday for two years,’ he admits. ‘I’ll just be lying on a beach with a drip-feed of Heineken! I think I work too hard, but I get so turned on by ideas that I feel if I don’t make these ideas work somebody else will. Now that I’ve got a production company called Crucial Films and people are welcoming independent television companies, I think it’s important to be in there with my ideas as well, I’ve got . to compete. But, I’ll be totally rejuvenated by the time I get to Edinburgh and I’ll have done a load ofgigs as well so I’ll be really cranked up and ready.’

Lenny Henry (Fringe) Edinburgh Playhouse . and Studio (Venue 59) 5572590, 3/ Aug. 11 pm, £7.50/f9. 50. True Identity goes on general release on 20 Sept.

The List 23 2‘) August 19919